The Collected Letters, Volume 1


TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE; 14 February 1820; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18200214-TC-JAC-01; CL 1:227-228.


Edinr14th Feby 1820—

My dear Jack,

After gulping down the Narcotic draught, about which the conclusion of Sandy's letter will give you information, I seize the good old goose-quill-stump once more, to thank you for your sensible & well-written half-sheet; concerning which I had only to regret that it was not a whole one, filled with the observations that you are daily getting more & more ability to express as well as make. I am not tired of your moralising; but pleased, on the contrary, to find that you reflect on those consolations, which the ‘various turns of fate below’ are still requiring at our hands, and which after all that we can think reduce themselves to patience & contentment, the only remedy for evils great or small. In the main, I approve very highly of your remarks on Hume. The wars of York & Lancaster were bloody indeed, but by weakening the power of our Kings and overturning the great barons, they contributed in no small degree to increase the influence of the commons, & bestow upon England the form of government which has raised her name so high in the annals of nations. I am not surprised that you feel some interest for Mary of Scotland. She was beautiful it is true; but I fear she was at the same time dissolute, imperious, unprincipled. Her beauty was very good for Darnley and Bothwell: but to us poor ugly wights in these latter days it is of small importance. I have been thinking that after concluding Hume, you might like to see the history of Scotland carried down to the same period as that where he leaves off. Malcolm Laing has written an intelligent, hard-headed rough account of the time which elapsed from James first's accession to the English throne (where Robertson concludes) to the union.1 Most likely I can get it for you from the library. But perhaps you will like some relaxation after so stubborn a season of application: in which case I shall try to get you some poetry or light stuff of that nature. I never go near auctions; yet I must endeavour to pick up a small work or two for Alick & you. A creature called Geo: Dalgliesh2 (carrier's son at Annan) would run through fire and water for me; because I sometimes condescend in my sovereign bounty to dictate for him a speech to be said or sung in a kind of society which he frequents. He will lie in wait at auction-rooms (or get [torn] to do it) for Cowper's or Gray's poems or some such thing: you might perhaps see by the last Scotsman that I had perused it before you; and from this fact you would infer that Smith's line was superfluous. In fact I got a letter from Geo: Johnston, some days ago, containing a line which did the business. Mr George on that occasion told me that you were following the Latin; and he spoke of your progress, in terms that would put your modesty to blush if I should repeat them. Continue your studies my boy: and if you feel enough of love for literature, if its sweets will reward you for the bitterness with which they must be gathered; it may happen not to lie without your reach. Should I succeed—And should I fail, it will be pleasing to reflect that a brother is not involved in such calamities. In the meantime learn, with all your might, when you can find a moment's leisure. Your penmanship, I am glad to see, is immensely improved. It wants only practice to make it quite respectable. Do not let it want this.

I could wish to hear from my Father, about the crops and all matters of that sort. I understand, things are not so flourishing with the farmer as they were lately: but the circumstance is matter rather of regret than surprise, for all ranks and classes are afflicted more or less in these disastrous days. You must write to me, in a very circumstantial manner next opportunity; and in the mean time allow me to conclude, for time hastens, and Mag is yet to serve.

Your affectionate Brother, /

Thomas Carlyle.